Ratatouille

 

This time of year, at least where I live, the market is simply overflowing with fresh veggies.  While the fruits seem to come in a relatively orderly sequence, one replacing another, the vegetables apparently just multiply, more kinds, more flavors, more colors, every week until the frost.

So, a perfect time to make something delicious out of them!  Something full & rich with the flavors of all the late summer bounty.

Ratatouille

Makes enough to feed 4 as a main course

Chop into large chunks (see the next post):

2 medium summer squash; zucchini, crookneck, etc.

2 smallish bell peppers; red, orange, yellow or purple

1 medium yellow onion

4 small or two larger eggplants

1 mildly spicy chile (optional but really good) If your chile happens to be already roasted, add it with the tomatoes.  Otherwise, keep it with the peppers, squash and onion.

This many veggies will not fit in my largest skillet in anywhere close to a single layer, meaning I know they won’t all brown on the edges.  So, I put the chopped eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil, and roast it in the oven at 375° F until soft and slightly browned, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the other veggies and put them in a large heavy skillet on high, with more olive oil, enough to keep them from sticking.  Stir occasionally, letting the surfaces of the vegetables get a nice medium brown.

While the veggies are cooking in the skillet, also chop:

4 -5 large tomatoes chopped roughly, or a little more than a pint of small ones cut in half

3-4 cloves of minced garlic

When the veggies in the skillet are just about browned, add the eggplant to them.  Make a clear space in the center of the skillet, add a drizzle of olive oil, and put the garlic in it.  When the garlic just starts to color, mix it in with the rest of the veggies, and add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat down and cook until the tomatoes start to collapse.

That’s it!  Serve with a generous portion of fresh basil (fresh oregano is also nice, although I like basil best), and a few grinds of black pepper on top.  You can salt to taste as well.

 

 

This recipe is delicious with risotto, or any cooked grain with a little cheese mixed in, or just with bread and cheese for lunch.

 

Recipe Sketch: Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Pan-Marinated Tofu

 

Last summer when we were at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, I fell in love with this salad.  Instantly it was the only thing I wanted to eat on a hot day – it’s cool, it’s nutritious, the lovely clean flavors of the sauce and herbs on top make it so refreshing.  I’m pretty sure I got it (from a local restaurant’s stand at the festival) all three days we were there, and I’ve been seeking it in other cities ever since.  This week, I was sitting on the couch, thinking about all the other things I have to do and wondering what on earth to make for dinner, flipping through my recipe book, when I remembered this salad – being home in warm weather was the perfect time to try making it myself!

 

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Noodles: I used very thin rice stick noodles. I’ve also seen this served with slightly thicker clear or white noodles.  Whatever kind you can find, check the package directions, boil just until tender (usually only a few minutes), then rinse under cold water.

Veggies; any or all of the following: shredded carrots, thin sliced bell pepper, cucumber, zucchini . . . almost all of the versions I’ve had include bean sprouts and shredded lettuce.  Tip: rinse bean sprouts in a generous spray of very cold water to get them at their tastiest and crispiest.  For my version, I sauteed the bell pepper and zucchini strips briefly over high heat, just to get little caramelized edges, then let them cool.  If it’s really hot out, you could just leave all the veggies raw and avoid turning on the stove!

Pan-marinated tofu: this seems like a good time to include this technique, which I use pretty much every time I make tofu.  Start with extra-firm tofu.  Cut it into slices, rectangles, triangles, whatever you like.  In a large skillet, heat a generous splash of peanut oil (sorry about the no-measuring for this part, I just don’t!) over medium heat.  When it’s getting hot, add in a splash of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar or lime juice, and a small spoon of brown sugar.  Stir around until the sugar dissolves, then add the tofu.  Stir the tofu around, then shake the pan occasionally while the liquid evaporates.  Keeping the heat on med-low, and stirring when you first put the tofu in will help keep it from sticking to the pan.  Once the liquid is gone, a nice caramelized crust will form on the tofu – yummy!  I haven’t found a better way than to flip each piece over once the bottom is brown and crispy.  If there are patches of sauce left, steer the flipped pieces onto those.  You can also add a little more of the marinating ingredients if necessary.  When both sides have a lovely golden crust, you’re done!  Flip the tofu out onto a plate to cool.  I did this one day as an experiment, and I have done it every time since, when I make tofu for Pad Thai, curry, etc.  Side story: once I was hanging out with my brother while he was grilling brats.  He said it’s the juice dripping down from the meat and being shot back up by the fire that makes it taste good.  Sometimes I think of this technique as giving the tofu some tasty juice of its own.  Ok, back to the noodle salad.

 

 

Herbs and peanuts: whatever veggies and other ingredients you choose, this and the sauce are key to the flavor of this dish!  Coarsely chop a generous handful of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro.  Finely chop some raw or roasted unsalted peanuts.

Sauce:  start with equal parts maple syrup, soy sauce, lime (or lemon) juice, and water.  For one person’s lunch-size bowl, use about a tablespoon of each.   Taste and adjust.  You can also add a clove of minced garlic and/or a little hot sauce if you wish.  What I love about this is the clean clear flavors, but some friends liked it better with a LOT of hot sauce. Hat tip to theKitchn for what to put in this sauce!

Assembly:  put the bean spouts and cooled noodles in the bottom of a bowl.  A wide shallow bowl would be ideal, since the sauce tends to sink to the bottom (otherwise, stir it up).  Top with veggies, herbs, tofu and peanuts, and pour sauce over the whole thing.  Enjoy!

Variations:  I made it the next day with an fried egg on top, also super tasty but not quite as cooling.  Of course you could add stir-fried meat as well, or practically anything else you like.  Pickled vegetables? It can easily be vegan, gluten free, or not, really the sky’s the limit here!

 

 

Enjoy!  I can’t go without mentioning the dessert I made for this meal, roasted strawberry coconut milk popsicles from The Year in Food.  Dude.  These were incredible!  I’ve been dying to make them and I was so happy I finally could.  My only note would be to lightly crush or grind the cardamom.  I love it when a recipe opens up whole new ideas, I never would have thought to roast a strawberry.  My whole house was filled with an explosion of strawberry jam smell so wonderful that I couldn’t stand to spoil it by cooking anything else at the same time.  They look cool too, I couldn’t resist taking my own picture!  Anyways.  Get out there and eat some summer!

 

 

Beet Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing

 

Recipe time!  This winter I have been making a lot of little side salads, it’s a nice way to get some green stuff without feeling overwhelmed by it, and you can change the dressing and flavors every day.  This one is a favorite at my house and also uses a winter staple, beets.  Beets are one thing we actually learned to love after getting a lot of them through our CSA – I also enjoy all the lovely colors they come in, including the salmon-y ones here!

The inspiration for this recipe came from an old issue of Bon Appétit, this is my simplified version.

For 2 salads:

Crumble about 2 tablespoons of your favorite blue cheese.  I like to use Fromage Blue, a kind of creamy cross between blue and brie.  You don’t have to put much else in this at all, so feel free to use really nice Roquefort or Stilton and the flavor will come through clearly.

Add a few tablespoons of heavy cream to make about the amount of dressing you want.  The longer you let it sit, the more cheese will absorb into the cream and the thicker it will get.  I like to leave it until the flavors are blended but it’s still liquid enough to spread over the salad.  You can add more cream later if it gets too thick.

Add:   About 1 tsp finely chopped shallot

A dab of stone ground mustard

A small splash of rice vinegar (or another type you like)

As you can tell, you can vary this a lot by taste.  If you have really nice cheese, feel free to use only a tiny amount of the other flavors.

Stir together, let sit and then enjoy!

We like to eat this on a salad of roasted beets, romaine, and whatever other fresh veggies we have in the fridge (pea pods are especially nice in the fall) with walnuts on top.

Extra: My favorite method for roasting beets:  Cut off tops and roots and place beets in a deep dish with about ½” of water in the bottom.  Cover with foil and bake at 375 until beets are very tender when pierced with a fork, then let cool and peel  – they’re so much easier to peel after cooking!

What’s your favorite way to use beets?  Your favorite blue cheese?